GWINN - Through the years, Judy Green of Gwinn has been a caregiver.
First, it was for her father-in-law. Then it was her mother. After that, it was her husband.
So when Green speaks at meetings of the Caregivers Support Group at the Forsyth Township Senior Center, other participants know she's speaking from experience.
Julie Shaw, director of the Forsyth Township Senior Center, discusses challenges with members of the Caregivers Support Group Monday at the center. The group meets at 1 p.m. the third Monday of each month. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
"Judy ran this group for quite a while," said Julie Shaw, Forsyth Township Senior Center director. "Judy is the voice of experience and while she's no longer a caregiver, she brings a lot of information to the table. She has been a blessing to us all."
Shaw said the support group is sponsored in part by the Alzheimer's Association.
"But it's not only for people who are caregivers to those with that illness," Shaw said. "It's for anyone who is a caregiver for any reason."
Shaw herself has been a caregiver.
"My father lived with us for a time until he went to the Jacobetti Home for Veterans," she said. "He died too young, at 65. We thought that he had Alzheimer's but after he died, the autopsy showed he'd actually had a series of mini-strokes.
"I know their journey," she said, nodding toward the group's attendees. "It's a hard journey."
Shaw began the meeting with a poem for those who are caregivers, then led a discussion about what each caregiver is experiencing at present.
"He has quit reading and doesn't write any more," said Betty Haveman of Gwinn, who's caring for her husband, who suffers from dementia. "And he fixes things that aren't broken, only he actually breaks them. I do the best I can..."
Green understands Haveman's frustration.
"I used to go out of hearing range and mutter," Green said with a smile.
"I tried that," Haveman said, smiling in return. "But he heard me and asked if I was talking to him."
"But sometimes muttering really helps," said Helga Pelfree, a Sawyer resident. "It really, really does."
Shaw had the group take a quiz about worry.
"It's a reflective exercise," Shaw said. "We make ourselves crazy with worry."
Group members each made a list of things they have worried about in the last month, then were told to put a check mark by any items which were aided because they worried about them.
"I worried about the weather," Green said. "And of course, there's nothing I can do to change that. So why worry about it?"
Shaw said: "There are so many things that are out of our control. My new saying this year is 'it is what it is'. You feel a lot less stress when you accept what you cannot control."
The group discussed a number of topics, with laughter punctuating much of the conversation. The laughter is an important component, Shaw said.
"Caregiver stress is heavy sometimes and they can burn out," she said. "Their health starts to fail, sometimes before the health of the one they are caring for does."
"I was so stressed out all the time, physically not so much as emotionally," she said. "It was difficult. Then when you're not caregiving any more, that's when you fall apart. Its almost like a delayed reaction."
"It's nice to have time to chill out," Shaw said. "It's a matter of learning to let a few things go or to ask for help."
Shaw asked if anyone in the group had a hard time saying no to requests from others.
"Not anymore," Pelfree said emphatically.
"No," Haveman said with a grin.
"Learning to say no is an important thing to do," Green added.
For more information on the group, call 346-9862.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.